by Lynn on November 22, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont.

Book adapted and directed by Tyrone Savage
Composer/ Lyricist/Musical Director, James Smith
Choreographed by Ashleigh Powell
Set and props by Lindsay Dagger Junkin
Costumes by Holly Lloyd
Lighting by Melissa Joakim
Sound by Andre Stankovic
Projections and puppetry by Daniel Briere
Cast: Ghazal Azarbad
Tess Benger
Hunter Cardinal
Michael Cox
Kat Letwin
Nicole Power
Tyrone Savage
Shaina Silver-Baird
James Smith
Alicia Toner

Jason O’Brien
Justin Han

As it was last year when it was first done, this revival is a foot-stomping, hand-clapping, whiskey-soaked joy of a show.

The Story. The story takes place on New Year’s Eve. Four woodswomen who are working deep in the Quebec forest struggling to meet their quota of chopped trees. They are ballsy Michelle, pious Alex, meek with a strong streak Toba and tenacious Lea. They all dream of going to Montreal to meet their lovers for New Year’s Eve but of course can’t go because it’s so far and they are snowed in.

But then a mysterious man named Damien appears—he has been wandering in the woods, lost and without food etc,– and makes them an offer they can’t refuse, and should have. He will grant them their wish of going to Montreal for New Year’s Eve, by giving them a magical flying canoe (the Chasse-Galerie of the title) that will fly them to Montreal on three conditions, one of which is no swearing at all. That’s impossible—certainly with Michelle, but they will try. If they fail to adhere to the three conditions he gets their souls in exchange.

This is compelling story-telling and is part of French-Canadian lore. Originally they were four woodsmen—but this is 2016 so Tyrone Savage adapted the story with four women now chopping trees. These women are hard-working, hard-playing and each has her own charm. But at every turn there is temptation and liquor and the devil in many disguises.

The Production. This is a remount of the glorious production created and performed last year at the small Storefront Theatre. The production was picked up almost in tact, but with a few cast changes, and is now presented in part by Soulpepper Theatre Company, and has some of its Academy members as part of the cast.

With a cast of 10 and two musicians who weave in and out of the story, Chasse-Galerie is as vibrant, raucous and joyous as it was before.

The playing space at the Young Centre is a more compact room. Lindsay Dagger Junkin’s set focuses the action on a large square platform in the middle of the room, with the audience on either side of the platform. To one side is the band lead by the masterful James Smith. On the other side is the bar. For this production the show even has its own brew. Daniel Briere’s evocative projections are flashed on the wall closest to the band to set the snowy, cold scene or to track the voyage of the Chasse-Galerie. In this format the action is more concentrated and high energy. Holly Lloyd’s costumes are rustic and have a wit of their own.

Tyrone Savage stages his large cast with efficiency, economy and maximum effect, using the space beautifully. The women are both friends and rivals at times but there is a camaraderie that is strong. Tyrone Savage’s direction brings that out as well. If anything I think the intoxicating energy is even more intense than last year.

The four woodswomen are a tight, cohesive unit, even with one cast change of the original four from last year: Tess Benger (Alex), Kat Letwin (Michelle), Nicole Power (Lea) and Shaina Silver-Baird (Toba) illuminate their characters with attention to both the broad strokes and the detail. They are all funny, charming, and tough-minded. They give Damien challenges he didn’t count on. In this year’s production Tyrone Savage not only directs and adapted the book, he also plays devilish Damien with a sensual charm and a sometimes crazed manner. Ghazal Azarbad plays Lucy Ferr with a kind of non-descript tameness. Surely the name would suggest some diabilical make-up, and considerably more edge?

The writing is smart, tight and hilarious. The musically masterful James Smith wrote the music and lyrics and added more songs this year to flesh out the characters and action from last year. He too does multiple duties by also conducting that band, playing many instruments and also plays a lovesick character named Francois. If one has a wish or two it’s that there be a song list and, one hopes, a CD of the show.

Ashleigh Powell has created the intoxicating, rousing choreography. The result is foot-stomping of the cast and the bopping to the beat of the audience.

. When Chasse- Galerie opened last December it was like a little surprise in the dead of winter. The run was short and some people missed seeing it even thought the clamour was loud to go. The show has been brought back to a larger space by a new company called Kabin with the help of the Storefront Theatre (who originally produced it) with a little help from Soulpepper Theatre Company. There is no excuse not to see it. It’s wonderful, again.

Presented by Kabin and the Storefront Theatre.

Opened: Nov. 12, 2016.
Closes: Dec. 1, 2016.
Cast: 10; 4 men, 6 women.
Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minues.

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